Intervertebral disc disease
An unfortunate common problem with the Dachshund breed is back trouble. Formally referred to as Intervertebral disc disease (IVD) or non-formally as a ruptured disc. The elongated Dachshund frame creates a suspension problem that makes them susceptible to IVD. Jumping to and from furniture tends to compound the problem.
When Shorty first showed signs of having back trouble she was four years old. I was told it most often occurs between three and seven years of age. Her back legs seemed unsteady; she was in obvious pain and arching her back. The vet advised several weeks of crate rest and provided some anti inflammatory medicines. After a couple of weeks confinement she was feeling better and within a month back to her old self. I invested in a step ramp to assist her onto the couch since I knew I’d never convince her that she didn’t need to be in my lap.
A year later she began having issues again and this time it was dramatically worse. The symptoms came on quickly one evening. By 2:00 a.m. that morning she was in so much pain that I rushed her to an emergency clinic. With medicine to ease her pain we were referred to a veterinary specialist.
Arriving at the referral, there were a group of buildings with a variety of veterinary specialties. Unsure, I walked into the neurology building only to realize that the address was wrong. The lady behind the desk tried to stop me from leaving, I later found that they specialized in Dachshunds.
Arriving at the address I’d been given, Shorty was examined and given steroids through an IV. The specialist recommended conservative treatment; he indicated that the surgery was very expensive and not always successful. After spending the night, Shorty was sent home with the same medicine and advice we’d been given the previous year.
The following Saturday morning, Shorty’s rear legs were completely paralyzed. She could move but only by dragging her rear legs behind her. Since all these episodes began I had acquired an education in IVD and knew that any hope we had relied on getting her to surgery as quickly as possible. Much to my dismay it was a holiday weekend and the clinic we were at just two days earlier did not have anyone on staff that could do the surgery. They assured me that they would help me find someone.
The next call I received was from the neurology clinic across the street that I originally entered by mistake. It turns out my mistake was leaving the first time. This clinic not only had the latest in diagnostic equipment they specialize in spinal surgery.
Dr. Anthony Hopkins agreed to do the surgery that afternoon. When I took Shorty to the clinic Dr. Hopkins examined her and her records thoroughly. During his examination of her rear legs she snapped at him. I was mortified but apparently that indicated that she could still feel what they referred to as “deep pain” and that was a good sign. After my discussion with him I knew I was the right place and making the right decision. As I left, I saw Dr. Hopkins cradling her in his arms which eased my frazzled nerves.
Shorty came home with quite the drastic new hair cut and staples down her back. I should have gotten a shot of the staples, we called her zipper dog for awhile.
Within a month (after lots of crate confinement) she was back to her energetic self. It took a little longer for the remnants of unsteadiness to go away and all of her hair, but now you would never know she had spinal surgery.
On a follow up visit, Dr. Hopkins explained that in humans the spinal cord ends in the middle of the back, but in dogs the spinal cord extends to the pelvis. Because of this a herniated disc in a dog can cause spinal compression and paralysis. During the surgery Dr. Hopkins removed some calcification (from the previous incident), the ruptured disc material and as a preventive measure the disc material from discs near the injury. He further explained that he does not remove the actual disc but just the jelly like material contained in the disc. He referred to it as scooping it out with a very very small spoon.
Shorty’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. I have to point out her scar to people and they still have difficulty seeing it. She has been healthy and strong for five years now. I still struggle keeping her from jumping off furniture, but she accepts and uses her step ramp when she wants to snuggle on the couch. She did have an incident eight months ago where she experienced some back pain. She was treated with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine and felt better in a few days.
The surgery was absolutely the right thing for Shorty. It was very expensive, but for me worth every penny. I’m fortunate that I had the funds, but I would have been willing to beg, borrow or steal to make sure she had the best of care.
If you are thinking of adopting a Dachshund their potential back issues is important to be aware of, but don’t let that scare you completely away. Unfortunately all dogs can have this same issue, Dachshunds and other long backed dogs are just more prone to it. If you have a Dachshund showing signs of back trouble don’t wait another minute get to your vet immediately.